Out Now: Surpise RPG Edition19 Nov 2016 4
Earlier this week, I was sucked into Severed (through an inter-dimensional portal, natch), and realized that comparisons to the tedious Infinity Blade games had scared me off prematurely from a highly-original Action-RPG. As a result, when this week’s releases included Neon Chrome, another Action-RPG that looked like it might be too twitchy for Pocket Tactics, I decided to give it a shot. If even reading about it gives you carpal tunnel and a migraine, let me know. We also have Treasure Hunter, Unworded, Replica, and the 11th-hour release of Avadon 3, so you know we’re here for you, even if you always zig when you should zag.
Avadon 3: The Warborn HD
Well, well, well, this is a surprise. I’d been expecting the final chapter of Spiderweb Software’s Avadon trilogy for a while now, but I didn’t hear so much as a whisper about exactly when until it hit. I haven’t had time to play this one: in fact, I’ve only played the first Avadon, but I can tell you that this series is one of the greats: if The Quest is the modern Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder, then Avadon is the new Ultima. We’ll get someone on this pronto.
Avadon 3: The Warborn crits with a sneak attack on iOS. We'll be doing a full review of this one as soon as we can.
Richard Garfield, creator of such legendary games as Robo Rally and Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, and… hold on, it’ll come to me… oh, yeah, Magic: The Gathering, may have done it again with Treasure Hunter. I say “may have,” because I haven’t played the tabletop version and Queen Games’ iOS port launched rough. Really rough. The first patch worked out a lot of bugs that could make the game unplayable, but the tutorial wigs out if you try to do anything unexpected (like zoom in on a card), there are no tooltips or in-game explanations of what special cards do, and you can’t always see or read key card information without zooming in. When that information is, at most, three numbers (no text, ever), that’s unacceptable. Nick will have the full review, hopefully after additional updated improve Treasure Hunter’s playability.
Having played Neon Chrome a little, I’m not sure if it’s a Pocket Tactics kind of game after all... but I'm not sure that it's not, either. This game is basically a two-stick shooter in the vein of Alien Breed or Crusader: No Remorse with a fair bit of customization. The story is that old dog “fighting an evil corporation / AI” but with a twist right out of The Surrogates: you’re hidden somewhere in a tower with a population in the millions, and you jack in to take control of one of your “assets” and when your asset dies, you return to the control room. There’s some moral ambiguity in there, as the AI condemns you for trying to derail the lives of millions, and your assets all have names, suggesting that they might be people whose lives you’re stealing, rather than empty vessels you’ve inserted into the system. Still, there’s more circle-strafing than plot, and I keep blowing myself up because I have ten thumbs. It looks like there are considerably more options as you advance, but I’m probably not going to get there.
For action, an embarrassing splash screen and advancement in the +5% damage vein, grab Neon Chrome on iOS.
Unworded isn’t a word game: it’s tangrams played with typography instead of triangles. You can’t rotate or resize anything, so the first step in solving each puzzle is often asking “why is that parenthesis rotated about 60 degrees clockwise?" This game is beautiful, with each puzzle animating into place and transforming into the setup for the next as you complete it. Unfortunately, someone hired 100% Renegade Commander Shepard to play the game’s unnecessary protagonist, and he berates his wife for interfering with his writing as she does silly little woman things… like drive him to the hospital to save his life. Asshole.
Unworded come for the serif fonts, stay if you can tolerate Melvin Udall’s barbs on iOS.
I don’t know if Islands: Non-Places is a game, exactly. Let’s call it a puzzler that’s mostly concerned with being a surreal experience than anything else. Islands is basically an interactive diorama, with the player rotating the scene left and right and tapping on things to produce mostly-unpredictable changes in the scene. Fair warning: this is a sound-mandatory game - many of the subtle cues that make play more than pure guesswork are auditory.
Spin to...win? on iOS.
Little Briar Rose
I’ll be honest: I don’t give a fig for super-HD real-time 3D animations of explosions at 2x the resolution of a scanning electron microscope, even when they do include molecule-perfect frag physics and authentic slaughterhouse bone-crush sound effects. But give me a distinctive art style, executed consistently and proficiently, and I could be there all day. Little Briar Rose’s stained-glass art is as luminous as the windows in Europe’s great cathedrals, and the first puzzle in the game requires addressing the needs of four different gnomes, creating a puzzle that rests on cooperation and empathy. That helps make up for the fact that this is Sleeping Beauty, the archetypal damsel in distress story, and that my first impression that you could play as a rescuing prince or princess was mistaken: some of those princes have incredible hair.
Replica: A Little Temporary Safety
Tired of Lifeline-like text message adventures? Replica gives you a whole phone to play with, and in this game you’re the one in deep, as homeland security has arrested you but mysteriously left you with your smartphone. I guess that’s technically a spoiler, as the game opens with you staring at a locked smartphone you don’t know the password for. Massive head trauma will do that. This is a dramatic change of pace from dev Somi’s previous (nearly wordless) game, Retsnom. Replica is well-written and has racked up indie game awards, so it’s an easy game to drop $2 on.
We didn’t review Skyhill when it was released on iOS, so when the Android version was released, I picked it up. Skyhill isn’t quite the game I expected: this zombie-survival roguelike does take advantage of its high-rise setting, but the constrained three-room “dungeon levels” make the game too easy on Normal (I didn't try it on Easy), and the RNG will often send you to an early grave on higher difficulty levels. Skyhill is more than a play-in-line game, with deliciously creepy mutants (zombies) and fragments of post-apocalyptic tragedy in photos, notes, and recordings, but may be too tightly constrained to kick Brogue off your device.
A number of other notable games saw an Android release as well, including Eisenhorn: Xenos, Rule with an Iron Fish, Mercenaries Saga 2, and Glitch Tank, the first Michael Brough game to escape Apple’s walled garden for the other mobile OS.